Category Archives: Eastern Medicine

When Celebrities Eat Clay

Zoe Kravitz recently claimed to lose 20 pounds by eating clay. Salma Hayek will be introducing a one ounce bentonite clay shot in September, and there are plenty of cleansing supplements that claim that clay will attract toxins and help you to lose weight and be healthier at the same time. Should you eat clay?

It’s a fun trend to be sure. You’re not eating food, and one could refer to the practice as a form of PICA. But clay does have its roots in traditional medicine according to Holly Phillips, an internist and medical contributor to CBS news. It’s supporters certainly jump to cling to that fact.

The problem is that clay is much more complicated than some would like to think. Clay can be contaminated with bacteria, viruses, and parasites according to Phillips. Concerns have been raised about dangerously high arsenic and lead levels in many of the supplements sold in health food stores and online.

Dr. Kent Sepkowitz has also criticized the act of eating clay for health. He has jumped on the celebrity diet, saying:

The purported benefits of geophagy, including its ability to somehow take toxins out of the system, strike me as nutty and decidedly untrue, though surely there is some impact on digestion. What needs a bit more consideration is the risk side. Dirt, after all, is dirty, and—be it clay from Attapulgus, Georgia, or the fields of Naryn, Kyrgyzstan, or the Oklahoma hills that Woody Guthrie once sang about—contains the excrement from countless animals who work the territory as they look for non-dirt nourishment.

I would say anything that is a celebrity trend is worth viewing with a skeptical eye.

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Is It Healthy To Eat Clay?

If you’ve been in the health market at all, there are plenty of people raving about the benefits of clay. They claim that it has detoxifying benefits, helps women to get pregnant, reduces acne, helps you to lose weight, and all around provides a natural health miracle. Known as geophagy, eating clay has been used in multiple areas of the world, and actress Shailene Woodley claims eating clay is the best thing you can do for your body. Of course, as a celebrity, we all know she must have a lot of insight into the science and otherwise.

It’s true that there are quite a few cultures who have long eaten some kind of dirt or clay, and this includes pregnant women in some countries. There are studies that show that clay can help to remove heavy metals from soil and animals that have been exposed to radiation. However, according to registered dietitian Janet Helm, there is no good, proven reason for people to eat clay. Pregnant women can get the nutrients they need from prenatal vitamins. This includes iron that one might argue may be in this clay. In addition, the liver and kidneys are specifically made to absorb toxins that they claim clay will fight.

On the other hand, we do have evidence that suggests that clay may not actually be the best thing to eat. There is evidence that clay may contain impurities such as lead, arsenic, and other toxic chemicals that could arguably harm growing fetuses/unborn children. It could lead to intestinal blockages, in other words constipation that could get serious. According to experts, the risks far outweigh any benefits we currently can’t prove.

Helm highlights this point, saying, Just because a celebrity thinks it’s the next big thing doesn’t mean you should try it. Sounds good to me.

Why You Should Drink More Tea

You’ve practically been beaten to death with all of the supposed benefits of green tea. Of course, there are all of the green tea commercials and diet pills that supposedly help with your cholesterol and weight. However, there are a number of different reasons to drink more tea in general.

  1. It tastes good – You can use things like honey to taste, but tea tastes pretty good. Especially if you go to some of the designer tea places like Teavana for example, you get various teas that have a large range of tastes, many of which are great. Depending on the one, you could even get great fruit flavors.
  2. There are many different types – Especially when you go to different places such as Teavana again (and there are plenty of local choices as well), you can get a ton of flavors. If you don’t like one flavor, you can try others.
  3. It can lower your stress levels – It has been proven that for various reasons, tea can actually be a significant de-stressor. It can fight free radicals that may be harming your body, and sometimes you just need that great relaxation with your tea in hand.
  4. It’s as natural as it gets – Tea has been around for centuries already. It originated in China, and it has been used for both medicinal and just personal purposes. There are plenty of different teas, all with plenty of different benefits, and there’s nothing unnatural about tea in general.
  5. It has a ton of health benefits – It can reduce stress, reduce your risk of cancer, clear your arteries, reduce risk of diabetes, and even improves your bone health. There are plenty of things with claimed health benefits. Tea is just one of them.
  6. Tons of antioxidants – Tea has high levels of healthy antioxidants. They fight harmful free radicals, which can both help you to be healthier now and prevent future issues that are entirely unnecessary.
  7. Higher metabolism – In part because of the caffeine found in teas, you can get a boost in metabolism. Some have suggested that other elements of tea leaves have the same effect as well. The energy boost doesn’t hurt either way.
  8. Better skin – Tea improves the look of your skin. Remember those free radicals? They can make your skin dull, make it age faster, and all sorts of other things. Antioxidants in tea control these and help you to maintain healthy and beautiful skin.

Yoga Is Not The Cure For Everything

I recently saw an article posted by a friend showing people who looked like entirely different people after such a period of yoga. Hell, maybe they were different people, or maybe they underwent photoshopping, surgery, or something else. It’s hard to tell. However, in the years since yoga became big in the West, it has been credited as a panacea of medicine for just about everything. Americans have fallen hard for it, just as some have fallen for the natural cures for cancer. It’s hard to resist something that seems so easy and natural, even if there are just as many reports about the possible dangers of yoga, especially in a country where we really are bandwagon fans. We love the studies posted by journals such as Ayu. Bias anybody? To be fair, some have also been included in Clinical Oncology and other mainstream journals.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with meditation and taking a minute to sit back and relax and think. If putting yourself in a yoga pose helps, I guess whatever. I just think there’s something wrong with giving something more credit than it deserves to the detriment of those actually suffering from the disorders it claims to treat.

In 1988, the Southern Medical Journal punished a study that asked born again Christians to pray for only half of the patients in a hospital coronary care unit. They wanted to test the power of prayer as medicine. The statistics published were questionable at best, but they claimed that the patients who were prayed for achieved better outcomes. As an atheist, I can admit I have a bias against this, but my religious parents were equally angered when a member of their congregation asked people to pray that she would recover from cancer rather than actually getting real medical treatment. Similar, and equally questionable studies have been published about the power of prayer such as a 1999 paper in the Archives of Internal Medicine that claimed that prayer may be an effective adjunct to standard medical care.

I will specify that I don’t have a problem with praying for friends and family members. I just don’t think it should be in lieu of medical treatment, nor should it be seen as any kind of medical treatment. I see yoga the same way. While prayer healing gathered quite a bit of hype to support it in the 1990’s, there were plenty of scientists who were quick to jump up to decry the obvious methodological errors and inaccuracies. Obviously, there was a good chance that the subjects in the original study also prayed for other patients (and their families and friends certainly could not be stopped from doing so). So it would be near impossible to really separate the two groups. Or are one group’s prayers more powerful than another, because they are in a study? A 2006 firmly reliable study actually proved that prayers provide no measurable medical benefits.

Back to yoga. Yoga has been credited by many to be a cure for diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, and even cancer. Yes, you heard me, cancer. It has been used by some to address bad grades, and frankly, the quasi-cures claimed by supporters of yoga seem questionable at best, just like the power of prayer.

The yoga studies that have been conducted have seriously methodological problems behind them, some of which are similar to those found in prayer research. The first problem is the definition of yoga. Just like prayers, different people practice yoga in different ways. There are various groups and types. Some believe in hot yoga while others believe that it is extremely damaging. Some people rely largely on hot yoga for weight loss, but as you may have guessed, it seems to just be water weight (you sweat a lot).

When you take into account that you also cannot measure the dosage of yoga, you run into other problems of being able to measure the placebo effect or put a control group into place. How much yoga do you need to fix back problems? Do you need more to fight cancer? How can you guarantee that a patient in a study is actually participating fully in the prescribed amount of yoga? Do you watch them every day to make sure that they’re holding the poses for the same amount of time and in the right form?

In something of an answer to this, a systematic review of yoga and asthma was officially published in 2011. Researchers found that the methodology of published studies was poor at best, and they concluded that there were serious problems with blinding and randomization. There were also high dropout rates, which could seriously color the results as you might imagine. If you were testing diets, high dropout rates would be considered a serious flaw, which is part of the reason why the South Beach Diet has not gotten the stellar ratings they would like. The only study that offered somewhat credible bases showed that there was no measurable difference and no benefit.

The review concluded, The belief that yoga alleviates asthma is not supported by sound evidence.

Additionally, a review was published in 2013 on the effects of yoga on schizophrenia. It noted that none of the studies were actually double blind. None of the studies blinded subjects, and only 3 blinded researchers, which is a serious methodological problem if you haven’t heard.Dropout rates were high or unreported, and the author concluded, No recommendation can be made regarding yoga as a routine intervention for schizophrenia patients.

Again in 2013, there was a review conducted on the benefits of yoga in hypertension. The complaint in that study stated that the methodological quality of the included trials was evaluated as generally low, and a definite conclusion about the efficacy and safety of yoga on hypertension cannot be drawn.

If you do not have serious back problems (which have actually been named as an issue with yoga) or other things that may make yoga more harmful than helpful, then go ahead and try it. It doesn’t really burn fat or build muscle, but if you find it relaxing, great. Just don’t depend on it for any measurable or real medical benefits.

Benefits of Cold Showers

On one of my favorite fitness podcasts, the host has been talking about all of the benefits of cold showers lately. Why? I’m not sure, but it caught my attention. It made me think, and I’ve been trying to turn the temperature down a little. Granted, I have heard about people using cold temperatures in general to burn more calories and lose weight through the shiver effect. But it’s a hard thing to get used to. Still, considering all of the benefits I’ve heard of, it seems to be worth a try. Personally, I never found the idea of a cold shower in the winter appealing, but what do you do. These are just a few of the benefits that have come up.

  1. Metabolism, Metabolism, Metabolism – The shiver effect we’ve all heard of does take effect. When you’re cold, blood gets flowing, and you shiver in order to get warmer. You end up burning more calories, and your metabolism gets a little boost. Your body produces more brown fats. which burn more fat. Who would’ve known?
  2. Increased Hormone Production – If you want to have a kid, it doesn’t hurt to take a cold shower. You may need hormone therapy, and you may need to take more extreme measures of course. The truth is that a cold shower can provide you with a small boost in testosterone levels for increased fertility. On the other hand, a hot bath can actually decrease sperm count. There is only so much that it can do of course, but with fertility, if you’re having trouble, every little bit counts.
  3. Relieving Depression – Cold showers can actually lift your mood and relieve mild depression. When you’re sitting under cold water, it sends impulses from your brain’s nerve endings, and it can be somewhat similar to antidepressants. It can calm your nerves, leading to very positive effects.
  4. Healthy Skin & Hair – If you want healthy hair, there are plenty of people who talk about not using blow dryers, straight irons, curling irons, etc. I had a friend whose mom was an absolute Nazi about it. She uses them now, in part I think because her mom wouldn’t let her for all of those years. Hot showers can have somewhat of the same effect. The only difference is nobody really knows it. Yes, hot protein treatments can be healthy, but when you have a cold shower, it is healthier for your hair, and it doesn’t dry out your skin like a hot shower can. You can of course take a mostly hot shower. Just try warm more than hot, and try closing it out with a bit of cold. According to many who have tried it, you can really see the difference.
  5. Increasing your energy levels – If you haven’t noticed, a little cold can really snap you awake. The energy could last a little longer than that though. When it comes right down to it, it can help to reduce the amount of caffeine for some people while stimulating energy, increasing your heart rate, and leaving you feeling refreshed and ready to go.
  6. Sleep Better – When I exercise regularly, I actually sleep better. The same goes for cold showers for some people. Cold showers provide energy in the morning, and they can be calming for your body as well. Yes, it’s shocking to your body at first, but then your body can calm down and help you to sleep better.
  7. Better Stress Tolerance – You wouldn’t think it, but taking a cold shower now and again can actually help you to better tolerate stress. You could build up your immune function, which would also equal out to not getting sick as often. Finally, it can actually reduce inflammation and chronic pain.

Personally, I don’t really think of cold showers as being particularly pleasant, but you get used to it. Of course, it’s always going to be a little shocking to the body when you step in, but you will acclimate and it can be extremely healthy in various ways. At the very least, for many of us, it’s worth a try.

Green Tea May Not Be Healthy

Personally, I have no desire to ever visit China. This sentiment only increased when my sister visited China to find that the optional excursions were not optional and they were forced into tourist traps where people literally spent hundreds of dollars on tea. Yes, ounces of tea. Part of the behavior is the fact that green tea has been pushed as this amazing and healthful thing that can also help you to lose weight. Studies have proven it increases metabolism, but doesn’t necessarily make a huge impact on weight.

Researchers add to this though with new studies that show that not all green tea is the same. Yes, we’ve all said it before. Why spend more on diet supplements when you could just go to your local grocery store? This is not to say that all diet supplements have good green tea, but certain types of green tea are better than others. Researchers specifically studies 26 types.

Some had higher levels of caffeine than what was listed, and the teas that were grown in China had a higher propensity to be contaminated with lead. Many plants can be contaminated with lead in the wrong plant, green tea included. However, green tea actually absorbs more from the soil in general, not just lead.

Researchers found 1.25 mcg to 2.5 mcg of lead per bag in Lipton and Bigelow, some of the biggest names which also use tea grown in China. On a side note though, the lead for whatever reason did not actually go into the water when brewing tea.

On the other hand, loose leaf teas you might find at Teavana used tea leaves grown in Japan for Gyokuro tea. It did not have a measurable amount of lead. Expert Cooperman explains The majority of lead is staying with the leaf. If you’re brewing it with a tea bag, the tea bag is very effectively filtering out most of the lead by keeping those tea leaves inside the bag. So it’s fine as long as you’re not eating the leaves.

For the health conscious, the most important part of green tea is the EGCG antioxidant. Researchers also compared the EGCG levels in different popular teas and green tea supplements. As it turns out, EGCG levels vary widely between teas. Some supplements have as little as just 4mg, and others have 300mg. 4mg is barely there, certainly not enough to actually do anything. Honest Green tea as an example has a promised 190mg of EGCG in every serving, but it only actually has about 114mg. It also had as much sugar as half a can of soda in every serving. Snapple has virtually no EGCG at all.

In other words, if you want EGCG, be picky. Many pre-brewed green tea drinks and supplements probably aren’t what they seem. Likewise, the cheap stuff you find in the grocery store probably isn’t all that great. In some cases, it’s worth it to just spend a few bucks and get what you’re paying for.

Benefits of Meditation

meditation20 minutes a day of crossing my legs, closing my eyes, and sitting alone with myself and my thoughts doesn’t sound so appealing. I know people do it every day, and many claim it’s relaxing. Being Asian and a Buddhist, I almost feel like I should be more mature and in touch with the meditating vibes, but I’m not.

There are some people who would automatically poo poo it as a natural waste of time. On the other hand, some doctors recommend this activity for their heart patients. As far as the science goes through, it may not be as sketchy as we once thought.

New studies are showing that regular meditation may relieve stress obviously and even symptoms of chronic pain. The actual mechanisms have been unclear, but now experts at MIT and Harvard may have found the answer.

Published on April 21 in the Journal of Brain Research Bulletin, this study showed that over 8 weeks, when trained to meditate, meditation effected brain waves called alpha rhythms.

According to Christopher Moore, an MIT neuroscientist, These activity patterns are thought to minimize distraction. Our data indicate that meditation training makes you better at focusing, in part by allowing you to better regulate how things that arise will impact you.

A 1986 study focused on Buddhist monks, showing that those who meditated regularly had higher alpha rhythms as well. Of course, don’t all Buddhist monks meditate? The control group would be what, stressed out businessmen who don’t meditate?

Any related studies are going to be small. The MIT study included only 12 subjects who had never meditated before. 6 were trained in mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) while the other 6 were told not to meditate. These subjects were told to meditate for 45 minutes a day.

Scientists took brain scans before and after and 3 weeks in. These subjects did not suffer from chronic pain, but researchers believe that those who do can “turn down pain signals.” They can focus their attention on other things than their pain.

Meditators claimed to feel less stress than non-meditators, and they were able to handle more stress. Researchers are currently planning more followup. I was surprised to see Harvard and MIT at the helm with something that seems so subjective, but these are not the only studies.

At UC Davis, researchers reported in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology showed that regular meditation could actually increase something called telomerase in the white blood cells. These researchers claim that telomerase reduction leads to disease and aging. In other words, they see telomerase as a sort of fountain of youth when it comes to things like dementia.

In a study specifically on caregivers, they took blood samples and had half meditating while the other half simply took time to relax. After meditation, 68 different genes were different and telomerase was higher. Inflammation went down, meaning pain might actually go down (among other things). Subjects who meditated were actually less likely to suffer from viral infections.

The Samantha study, also conducted at UC Davis, taught some experienced meditators intense meditation. Those who practiced intense meditation saw improvements in visual perception, meaning you might get a more complete picture of the world around you.

I am a skeptic, and I would’ve never personally studied the effects of sitting around and focusing. Luckily, I’m not the one deciding what studies get done and which ones don’t make it. Fortunately, there are a lot of people doing that depending on the area. I suspect though that more studies will be done.